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Outdoor recreation plays a large role in Montana’s economy, and a recent study from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis put that role in perspective.

Montana ranks second in the country for how much outdoor recreation contributes to its gross domestic product — 5.1% in 2017. Hawaii ranks first with 5.4%. Maine is third.

The bureau released the report last month. It broke down the data by state and included statistics for the U.S. as a whole. It found that in 2017, outdoor recreation added $427 billion to the nation’s GDP. In Montana, outdoor recreation added $2.4 billion to the state’s GDP, which is just 13% less than what construction added.

On Monday, Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics released a visualization of the data. Headwaters’ executive director, Ray Rasker, has written about rural development and the role of environmental quality for a decade. He sat on a board that guided the Bureau of Economic Analysis research.

Rasker said the report can help Montana understand the return on its investment in outdoor recreation.

“It’s not just a luxury item,” Rasker said. “It’s something that stimulates the economy and creates jobs.”

The statistics were developing using the State Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, which “isolates the economic activity associated with outdoor recreation spending and production in a state’s economy,” according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The statistics include industries like accommodation, retail, manufacturing and transportation.

The report divides recreational activity into three categories: conventional core activities like hunting and hiking, other core activities like outdoor concerts and gardening, and supporting activities like construction and tourism. Conventional activities made up 30.6% of the nation’s outdoor recreation economy, and supporting activities made up 50.1%.

The report found that nature-based activities, like camping, contribute more to the outdoor recreation economy than other types of outdoor activities, like sports. In Montana, boating and fishing added the most value to its outdoor recreation economy at $144 million.

In 2018, Headwaters Economics found that outdoor recreation generated 71,000 jobs and $7.1 billion in consumer spending in Montana.

Outdoor recreation continues to get bigger. The Bureau of Economic Analysis report found that between 2012 and 2017, Montana’s GDP grew by 6%. During the same period, the contribution from outdoor recreation to the state’s GDP grew by 24%.

“Not only is it a big sector of the economy, it’s growing fast,” Rasker said.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at or at 406-582-2607. Follow her on Twitter @shay_ragar.

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